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Henry Butler - Interview PDF Print E-mail
Written by Debra C. Argen   
Henry Butler  - photo by Luxury ExperienceComposer, arranger, singer, Jazz pianist Henry Butler talks to Luxury Experience about his music, his photography, and what is next for the ever-evolving, multi-talented musician, who was originally from New Orleans, and now calls Brooklyn, New York home.



Henry Butler at the Piano - photo by Luxury Experience
Henry Butler performing

Henry thanks for taking time to speak with Luxury Experience. Edward and I really enjoyed hearing you play at Jazz Standard in New York in late March 2013. After speaking with you briefly before the show, I was looking forward to learning more about the man behind the music.

You were born and raised in New Orleans, learned to play the piano at the age of 6, and started performing professionally by age 14. Who were some of your musical influences when you were growing up?



I started arranging at 11, and first started performing in school, which had a dynamic music program with some wonderful role models, including Robert "Bobby" Eugene Powell, who was a student at the school. He had huge hands like Franz Liszt, and he would play Liszt, Beethoven, Debussy, Ray Charles, and Jazz stuff, and another student who was a great arranger, but not as good a piano player as Bobby. That is how I learned to savor everything; Jazz, and classical, I wanted to touch and tap into all of the musical genres.  Bobby Powell was a little older than most of us, as most blind students entered school a little later, except for me, I entered school early because my mother keep pushing. I was the youngest in my class. Only when I graduated, went to college, and got out in the world, did I realize how good Bobby was.

Back then, the radio stations played a little of everything, some Jazz, R&B, Blues, they did not have such narrow genres as now. They might play some local Jazz, then play Allen Toussaint or some artist coming to town, and for a young guy like me, I thought that was how it was supposed to be, able to play it all.



Since Hurricane Katrina, you moved to Brooklyn, New York. Do you find the New York music scene different from New Orleans?



When I lost my house and all my stuff in Hurricane Katrina, I first moved to Colorado. In August 2009, I moved to Brooklyn, New York, although I still have a place in Colorado, which is great to go there for a week at a time to write and relax.

The New York music scene is bigger, more you can do here, and if you play your cards right, there is more publicity that reaches a national level, opposed to a more local level. There are some wonderful musicians in New Orleans, and the government needs to support arts and music, we need to support the mind, as a great nation needs great art and music.



You have played all over the world. Where are some of your favorite places to play and why?



I like playing in Norway; the people still like music, hearing, and discovering new stuff. It is wonderful to feed an audience, and then have them feed me right back. It happens in a nanosecond, and you realize that you played better there because of the energy, because they were educated, curious minds looking for new stuff.

It is a joy to play in Germany; I played the Berlin festival, and the Frankfurt Opera House. I played many places in Switzerland, in England, and in Russia, where in addition to playing, I also gave a workshop and a master class for students of the Moscow Conservatory.



You are a man of many talents. In addition to Jazz and Blues, you also sing opera.



My degree is in classical voice, and I used to sing opera, and sing French, Italian, and German art songs. From time to time, I like to take art song melodies and turn them into something else.



How did you get involved in photography? Your photographs are insightful and engaging. What is your approach?
In 1984, my partner at the time was an artist, and she and I would go together to the galleries, and she would describe the exhibits in great detail. I found art to be intellectually stimulating; music was not enough, I wanted something more, so I thought I would try photography opposed to painting, although there are blind people who do paint. Sculpture probably would have been easier, but I wanted to develop my intuition. I wanted to understand why people could be caught up looking at old photographs. I later realized they were transporting their consciousness, in making the connection. The same is true for the way listening to music can transport the listener to understanding when the music was recorded.

My approach to photography was that I had an assistant who would describe what was in front of me. Some people have eyes, and some people have well trained eyes. Artists have well trained eyes, able to pick up the details, the nuances. I would ask my assistant as many questions as I could think of, or sometimes just a few, before I took a photograph, partly intuitive, partly being in the moment, being intellectual. Sometimes, regardless of how I am feeling about the photo, I know that I need to take it. Sometimes they are good, sometimes not.
What is next for Henry Butler? You had mentioned at Jazz Standard that you had just spent some time in the studio laying down some new music. Do you have a release date yet for the new album?



I am still working on it, and need to go back and do some mixing, so be on the lookout for the release over the next few months. Check my website for details ( I worked with Steven Bernstein and an 11-piece band, so it was a lot of fun. We played New Orleans music, Second Line music, old Jelly Roll Morton, and Fats Waller, too.



Henry, that is going to be one fabulous release and I cannot wait to give it a listen! In the meantime, keep doing what you love, and keep enjoying the music. Thank you for taking time out to speak with Luxury Experience.

Henry Butler and Edward F. Nesta - photo by Luxury Experience
Henry Butler and Edward F. Nesta

Read about Henry Butler's performance at Jazz Standard in the Performances section.

For information on upcoming Henry Butler performances, please visit the website: 

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© April 2013. Luxury Experience  All Rights Reserved. 

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